Is Alkaline Water Better For You?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle

Facts About Water

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

is alkaline water better for youIs alkaline water better for you?  It’s bad enough that some people are paying a premium price for bottled water that isn’t required to be any better than tap water, but the latest fads appear to be things like “alkaline” water and “ionized” water. And these “super” waters come with a really hefty price tag.

If you believed the hype behind these products, you would think that they are revolutionary advances that will cure all sorts of ills. But the truth is these enticing claims are completely bogus. They contradict the basic laws of chemistry and biochemistry.

More importantly, there are no good quality clinical studies showing that they work!

What Is Alkaline Water?

Let’s start with alkaline water – but first a bit of background information.

Pure water has a pH of around 7, which is neutral. However, if the water is exposed to air for any length of time it picks up CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 dissolves in the water and is converted to carbonic acid making most sources of pure water slightly acidic.

On the other hand, if metal salts are dissolved in the water it generally becomes slightly alkaline.

Is Alkaline Water Better For You?

Here are some questions you might ask when deciphering if alkaline water is better for you than plain water:

1) What Are the Benefits of Drinking Alkaline Water?

In the 1930s Otto Warburg, one of the founders of modern biochemistry, showed that cancer cells were much more dependent on glucose (blood sugar) as an energy source than were most other cells in the body and that cancer cells metabolized glucose in a way that made the cancer cells very acidic.

That information languished for many years, but interest in the “Warburg Hypothesis” has been revived in recent years by studies showing that cancer cells can be selectively killed by limiting their source of glucose.

So, what are the benefits of drinking alkaline water?  In theory, making the body more alkaline would also slow the growth of the cancer cells. There is some evidence to support that hypothesis, but the evidence is still relatively weak.

It is the same with the other proposed health benefits of alkalinizing the body. There is some evidence in the literature, but it is not yet convincing. As a scientist I’m keeping an open mind, but I’m not ready to when-pigs-fly“bet the farm” on it.

2) Can Alkaline Water Alkalinize the Body?

Here the answer is a clear cut NO! In fact, this hypothesis wins my “Flying Pig” award for the month!

The body has a very strong buffer system and some elaborate metabolic controls to maintain a near-constant neutral pH. More importantly, water is such a weak buffer that it has almost no effect on body pH!

Alkaline Foods

If you really want to alkalinize your body you can do that by eating more of the alkaline foods (most fruits, including citrus fruits, and most vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, seeds & nuts) and less of the acidic foods (grains, especially refined grains, meat, especially red meat, fish, poultry and eggs).

I’ve seen some experts recommend 60% alkaline foods and 40% acidic foods. I can’t vouch for the validity of that recommendation in terms of the benefits of alkalinizing the body, but there are lots of other good reasons to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less red meat and refined carbohydrates.

Is Ionized Water Beneficial?

Ionized water is an even sillier concept from a chemical point of view.

It is very difficult to ionize pure water and the ions that you do create quickly recombine to give you pure water again without any change in pH or physical properties.

If you add sodium chloride (table salt) to the water you can get electrolysis that creates a slightly alkaline pH at one electrode and a slightly acidic pH at the other electrode.

However, as soon as you turn off the current, these pH changes rapidly disappear. Even if you were somehow able to capture some of the alkaline or acidic water remember that water alone has almost no effect on body pH.

Never Underestimate The Placebo Effect

But, what about all of those glowing testimonials that you have heard?

You need to remember that the placebo effect is near 50% when it comes to pain or a feeling of well being.

You can’t repeal the laws of chemistry and biochemistry. Water is, after all, just water!

Good science trumps good testimonials any day.  Never, never underestimate the placebo effect.

The Bottom Line

Don’t waste your money on alkaline water or ionized water. Water is a very poor buffer and has almost no effect on the pH of our bodies.

There may be some health benefits to keeping our bodies in a more alkaline state, but the best way to do that is to eat more alkaline foods and less acid foods (http://www.webmd.com/diet/alkaline-diets).

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Michael Rosenbaum

    |

    Dear Dr Chaney:
    I have a friend who uses and sells kagen water machines that ionize your water and lower the PH. One of the claims I have heard about ionized water is that the body absorbs the water much faster so the body hydrates much faster, which if true would be a good benefit. Is this something you have investigated?
    thanks- Michael Rosenbaum

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Michael,
      The short answer is that the rate of water absorption can be influenced by the presence of ions in the water, but not enough to make any significant difference in how much water we can absorb in the long run.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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